5 MLB Players Who Dominated Spring Training
Dust off your baseball glove because Spring Training is almost here, and we’ve scouted five MLB players that made preseason headlines for good reasons.
Some people like to claim Major League Baseball’s Spring Training is meaningless. Sure, the results don’t affect regular season statistics, and you don’t make it to the playoffs—let alone the World Series—because of what you do in the Grapefruit or Cactus leagues. But it’s still entertaining as can be, and it’s sometimes the perfect springboard for players to find their start-of-the-season form.
To prepare for this year’s MLB season, we’re examining five celebrated Spring Training performances of the last 15 years.
#5: Michael A. Taylor—Washington Nationals (2016)
The 2016 MLB season was a transition for the Washington Nationals. With Dusty Baker now at the helm, every player had to prove themselves to their new manager.
Despite debuting with the Nationals in late 2014, outfielder Michael A. Taylor was still getting his footing by the time spring 2016 rolled around. But it was during that time he started producing outstanding offensive numbers.
Across 53 plate appearances, Taylor nabbed a .453 batting average, a .491 on-base percentage, and a mighty .849 slugging percentage. The numbers, however, weren’t maintained during the regular season. But, after turning things around, Taylor and the Nationals eventually became World Series champions in 2019.
#4: Kevin Newman—Pittsburgh Pirates (2021)
Arbitrary is a word often associated with Spring Training accomplishments. Still, no matter what time of year it is, you can’t help but take notice when a player breaks records.
Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Kevin Newman did just that during 2021’s Spring Training. In 39 at bats, Newman wound up with a .606 batting average. He even avoided striking out in all 13 games.
Unfortunately for Pirates fans, the stats weren’t indicative of the season ahead. Pittsburgh ended at the bottom of their division again, though Newman did show further glimpses of brilliance. Perhaps there’s still more for the player and the team to prove.
#3: Michael Wacha—St. Louis Cardinals (2013)
It takes mighty endurance for a preseason performance to translate into postseason earnings. After all, from Spring Training to the Fall Classic, MLB is active for nearly 10 months out of the year. So, when Michael Wacha turned heads during his rookie Spring Training, it’s likely he didn’t expect to be pitching in the World Series that same season.
The St. Louis Cardinals pitcher was a force to be reckoned with during his first (albeit brief) Spring Training experience. He pitched just under 12 total innings but walked one and struck out 15.
Wacha was quickly reassigned back to the minors but eventually made his major league debut in May. His Spring Training form continued, aiding the Cardinals into the MLB Postseason, where he won the National League Championship Series MVP award.
#2: Kris Bryant—Chicago Cubs (2015)
The Chicago Cubs were destined to win the World Series in 2015, at least according to Back to the Future Part II. While the Cubs missed the mark that season, it wasn’t for lack of trying or talent.
One such talent heading into the 2015 MLB season was Kris Bryant. All eyes were on the third baseman every time he went to bat during that year’s Spring Training—and for good reason too.
Just over halfway through the Cub’s Cactus League campaign, Bryant racked up eight home runs and a .480 batting average in 10 games. While those red-hot stats came from a small sample size, it was the perfect showcase for Bryant and a prelude to the kind of success he and the Cubs would go on to enjoy.
#1: Jake Fox—Baltimore Orioles (2011)
As seen with some of the players on this list, an impressive Spring Training can be an early chapter that culminates with a World Series storyline. That was not the case for Jake Fox, but his 2011 Spring Training is still talked about to this day.
Traded to the Baltimore Orioles in mid-2010, Fox lit up the Grapefruit League the following spring. The utility player hit 10 home runs and had a .797 slugging percentage in 74 turns at bat. He could really do no wrong when it came to his game.
What followed the best Spring Training ever only strengthened opinions that preseason games don’t really matter. That season, Fox struggled in his 27 regular season appearances. By June, he was removed from the Orioles’ 40-man roster and never played in the major leagues again.